Jeff stood there, his eyes sweeping the room and trying not to smirk. That the room — small and dimly lit with sleep-inducing music playing in the background — was empty seemed almost fitting. And sad.
“I love his smile —”
“What?” Jeff turned to his right and there was his sister, Daniella, leaning over the casket.
“I love his smile,” Daniella repeated.
“I wouldn’t exactly say that he’s smiling.”
Daniella reached out her delicate hands and adjusted the white handkerchief in the suit jacket pocket. “There,” she said, patting it twice. “I can hear him laughing…”
“Laughing?” Jeff rolled his eyes. “Joke’s on him. He’s dead, you know. And laughing? You obviously have a different memory of our father than I do. Laughing…” He threw Daniella a knowing look. “God, you crack me up.”
Jeff took a quick glimpse of his father, who lay there still and quiet and … dead. No, Henry Gooding wasn’t smiling. And Jeff couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard his father laugh. Maybe never. Henry Gooding wasn’t a well-liked man, nor a happy one. Maybe the divorce, when Jeff was ten, had broken his father. Maybe it was losing his job after thirty-three years of service. Maybe it was the accident that claimed his eldest son and left him living. Maybe it was all those things. Something had made Henry miserable, which led to the kids in the neighbourhood calling him Mr. Grumps — a moniker carried from one generation to the next. Jeff could still hear his father’s raspy voice yelling at the children walking home from school to “Get off my lawn!” Or when the neighbours said, “Good Morning,” and his father thundered back, “Not when you’re still taking up space.” No wonder no one showed up to send him off.
“And he’s not dead,” Daniella said, choking back her tears. “He’s crossed over into the next world.”
“That pine box is costing us ten grand for the journey,” Jeff shot back. “I don’t know why he didn’t want to be cremated.” He yanked on his tie. “Can I take this thing off yet?”
“You never did like to dress up,” the sultry voice said.
Jeff and Daniella turned away from the casket and stared down the attractive, middle-aged woman coming towards them. Dressed in a rather plain black dress and wide-brim hat, she extended her arms. Daniella stepped forward and accepted the flimsy embrace.
“We were hoping you wouldn’t make it, Andrea,” Jeff said as he slipped his hands into his pockets, a quirky smile on his face. “In between suitors?”
Daniella shot her brother a harsh look. “Jeff, you promised me…” She looked at the woman. “And so did you, mother.”
Andrea raised an eyebrow. “Me? Well, I didn’t say a word.” She eyeballed Jeff. “Have you gained weight?” She pushed past Jeff and stood in front of the coffin. “Oh, Henry, you rascal. Always smiling, even in death, like you’re having the last laugh.”
Jeff stomped his foot. “He’s not smiling!”
While Daniella and Andrea stood with their arms wrapped around each other in front of the casket, Jeff slinked off. He loosened his tie and plunked himself down in one of the floral covered armchairs pushed up against the far wall. Just then another woman entered the room and marched straight towards Daniella and Andrea. Jeff sat up straight and cringed. Dealing with his mother was bad enough. He wasn’t in the mood for his father’s equally disagreeable sister, Anne.
“Oh, the Lord does have a sense of humour,” Anne said askance. “I swear that’s a smile on Henry’s face.” She looked at Daniella. “Did he suffer?”
“Uh, no, I don’t think so,” Daniella said.
“Pity,” Anne said, then grabbed the handkerchief out of Henry’s pocket and dabbed it at her dry eyes.
“Christ…” Jeff drawled, and ran his hand over his face. In that moment, he could have used a stiff drink.
A stout bald man entered the room and cautiously approached Jeff. “Should we start the service, Mr. Gooding?”
“Don’t suppose we can just throw him in the furnace?” Jeff stifled his laugh when he caught the man’s wide-eyed look. “I guess not.” He stood and announced to the room, “Show Time.”